Coca Cola Championship
West Ham United 1 Preston North End 2

Saturday, 5th March 2005
by East Stand Martin

I felt for the linesman today as he was almost taken out of the game by a debilitating attack of w*nker’s whiplash. He could barely raise his arm, let alone a smile. I bet the physio told him as he applied the magic sponge, “Next time lay off the jazz mags before a big game.”

It was hard to know what to expect at the start of this game. Such is the life of your average West Ham fan. Would they be up for it after getting robbed last week at Leeds? Or would they still be on a downer?

The manager’s job description

It is the job of the manager to raise spirits, instil belief and generally put the team in the right frame of mind. There are some leaders in football who excel at this and I heard one happy bloke on the radio coming home – a Palace fan – describe how Iain Dowie appears to have a genuine knack of motivation and making an average group of players exceed their individual abilities. What has been disturbing me for some time is that our team seems to perform below the sum of its individual parts.

The team line-up didn’t look too bad, although I am always fearful when Hayden Mullins gets put at right back and Tom is asked to do a job in the centre.

Williams was the first to show something encouraging when in the very first minute he made a good burst forward but his ball didn’t quite work for Matty on the edge of the area.

Bywater has a kicking ‘mare

On four minutes, Cresswell decided to take what was not to be the last dive of the day and this did not amuse Tom in the least. But the man that was causing me the most concern was Bywater who seemed extremely nervy every time a back pass was sent his way. This appears to be a fundamental flaw in his game and he cannot afford to have it in a modern game where keepers need to have ball skills as good as any outfield player.

On eight minutes, Marlon found Mullins in space in the box but he just looked clumsy and the chance was wasted. Bywater was at it again on 12 minutes when he skied a back pass so high, the ball came down with ice on it. There was a hint of panic at the back as we dealt with that one.

A minute later we almost took the lead after some superb work by Williams who put in a fantastic ball after tricking a defender at the byline. It was one of those balls across the six yard line that is almost impossible to defend and I am still left wondering how Sedgewick managed to get a foot out and squeeze the ball past the bottom of the right hand post.

Disaster strikes

But then disaster struck on 16 minutes the very shaky Bywater made his fourth and most costly error from a Fletcher backpass. His touch was just appalling and Nugent could hardly believe his luck as he nicked the ball and sidefooted into the empty net.

West Ham’s response to this mishap was not at all encouraging. We seemed incapable of stringing even a half decent set of passes together and most of the time the ball seemed to be bouncing around in midfield. Rarely did we find feet and it was always a Preston player that picked up the loose ball.

On 25 minutes, we could have gone two goals behind as Williams got beaten and Sedgewick hit a powerful shot from the edge of the area. Fortunately, Bywater is a better shot stopper than a dribbler and he made a good block.

With six minutes left of normal time, Marlon picked up a loose ball in the box but his shot was deflected wide. From the corner, Fletch managed to get a good shot on goal which keeper Chris Day managed to parry and then grab before Teddy could get his foot on it. This was to be the only shot of goal from West Ham during the first half, although Marlon nearly managed to retrieve a long clearance which bounced over Mawene’s head on 41 minutes.

The eye of the tiger

But the final action of the half was disastrous as Repka saw red for what looked like an intended head butt on O’Neill. The incident followed a foul on a West Ham player and the clash resulted from Tom trying to get the ball to take the kick. It was a piece of pure indiscipline which is difficult to defend. It was the last thing that we needed.

This was a dire first half performance and there was some irony in being greeted by the theme tune from Rocky in the decrepit East Stand bogs at half time. This is a tune which celebrates a man pushing himself to the limit. The only people in that stadium who had reached the limits of their endurance were the 25,000 or so West Ham fans who have just about had enough of being served up passionless, long ball football.

Teddy no show

Teddy didn’t reappear for the second half and Zamora came on. Teddy may have been voted the best player in the Championship, but he simply doesn’t have the legs to stay the course these days.

Bywater’s confidence didn’t seem to have been repaired by the half time talk, as in the very first minute he fumbled a shot, allowing Nugent to put the ball in the back of the net. He looked mightily relieved when the linesman overcame his earlier injury to raise his flag for offside.

Mullins hadn’t improved his performance either as firstly he failed to make an easy pass which allowed a Preston break and then he gave the ball away on 54 minutes to allow Nugent to get clear in the box. He looked certain to score as he rounded Bywater but his control was not what it should have been, allowing Bywater to recover.

The one man advantage enjoyed by Preston was beginning to show and we were struggling to retain the ball and cope with Preston breaks forward. One of these breaks on the hour resulted from a failure by Malky to get his foot on the ball. The shot just went wide of the post.

Volume turned up

The crowd were trying to do their best to raise the lacklustre team and the noise level went up one or two notches after Williams was booked for a late tackle on 65 minutes. The infringement probably merited a card, but what incensed the crowd was the dramatic way in which the Preston player was rolling around on the floor. This playacting is calculated to frustrate and it was working.

Pardew tried something new with the introduction of Reo-Coker for Malky on 69 minutes, and a minute after he came on Matty managed to get a good volley on goal from a free kick, but this was taken easily by Chris Day.

On 74 minutes Lomas did his best with a ranging run and won a corner. Lomas met Matty’s ball in, but could only glance it wide.

Left for dead

Nugent was replaced by ex-MK Don Patrick Aygemang on 79 minutes and within a minute of his introduction, he had scored. He used his pace to leave the tiring West Ham defence for dead, skipped by Mullins and finished low into the corner of the goal from inside the box.

A minute after the clueless Mullins was booked for a poor tackle, Marlon was very lucky not have seen red on 84 minutes when he made what looked like a two-footed tackle. He stayed on to powerfully chase down a ball down the left two minutes later. He put over a terrific cross to find the advancing Zamora who hit a brilliantly controlled volley to score. It was the move of the match but too late to rescue a point.

Are we happy?

No doubt just about every West Ham fan left the ground feeling totally unimpressed and depressed by a gutless and uninspiring performance. It feels worse than those terrible days under Roeder. I’m also totally fed up with being told that we should be grateful that we are still in with a chance of promotion or that we are asking for too much. Call me old fashioned if you like. Call me sentimental, but this is West Ham United Football Club we are talking about. The Academy of Football. We should not be subjected to appalling displays like that.

The reality was that we only managed a couple of shots on target in the whole 90 minutes. Apparently there was a fracas in the tunnel at the end of the game, but I’m frankly unimpressed by any arguments that Preston provoked this by their playacting. Sure, this was going on, but this does not in any way either justify the sheer lack of quality we displayed or the bundle at the end of the game. It just raises questions in my mind about the discipline of the team.

We are losing the plot at exactly the wrong time. We knew that both Preston this week and Reading next week would ask some questions and on the evidence of today’s performance we do not have the answers. We are failing to take advantage of other teams slipping up and it is truly amazing that Reading can get back into the play off places when they have not won a game this year. We have had a real chance to take a grip, but we’ve just let go with a whimper.

I now have severe doubts about even making the playoffs, although I bet that some stato will soon look through the remaining games of the main contenders and tell us all that we have a great chance. If we make it, I won’t be holding my breath.

(Player ratings by Chris Lewis)

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Terrible kicking. Made some good saves. Distribution from hand good.

Tomas Repka
Played well right up until he was sent off. Shouldn?EUR(TM)t have been dismissed - but if he hadn?EUR(TM)t reacted then the referee wouldn?EUR(TM)t have been able to make the mistake.

Chris Powell
Looks a decent player, had a good game.

Hayden Mullins
Looked poor today. He is not a full back and shouldn?EUR(TM)t be played there.

Malky Mackay
Solid. Never looked in any trouble.

Carl Fletcher
Solid but not exciting. Looked good at centre-back. Carried the ball out of defence well. Maybe he should start in defence and Reo Coker or Mullins in midfield?

Steve Lomas
Passionate - but not a dominant force. He should be more influential at this level.

Matthew Etherington
Totally uninterested. Very disappointing from someone who looked like he could be pushing for an England spot not so long ago.

Gavin Williams
Looks a decent player. Needs a bit of time to bed in but there?EUR(TM)s something about him that says he?EUR(TM)s a good signing.

Teddy Sheringham
Looked totally off the pace. He should play as a super sub.

Marlon Harewood
I?EUR(TM)m not a Harewood fan. But today he worked hard, showed a lot more spirit and he should start up front with Zamora. Great work for the goal.


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Sheringham, 46) My Man-of-the-match. Tried his heart out. Really wants to prove himself. I think he has good awareness and could form a good partnership with Harewood.

Nigel Reo-Coker
(Replaced Mackay, 70) Not on for long. I like what I?EUR(TM)ve seen of him in the past and today there were glimpses that he?EUR(TM)s a good player.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Chris Cohen
Did not play.

Hogan Ephraim
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Tomas Repka, Chris Powell, Hayden Mullins, Malky Mackay, Carl Fletcher, Steve Lomas, Matthew Etherington, Gavin Williams, Teddy Sheringham, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Bobby Zamora 87                  .

Booked: Marlon Harewood 44 Gavin Williams 66 Hayden Mullins 84      .

Sent Off: Tomas Repka 44    .

Preston North End: Say,Alexander, O'Neil, Sedgwick, Mawene, Lewis, Hill, McKenna, Lucketti, Cresswell, Nugent.

Subs not used: Ward, Broomes.

Goals: Nugent (17), Agyemang (81).

Booked: Sedgwick (45), Alexander (59).

Sent off: None.

Referee: S.Tanner.

Attendance: 26,442.

Man of the Match: Bobby Zamora.